Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Annotating? Or defacing?

Bus Stop End Of The Relationship
Click comics for full size versions at InkyGirl

I just saw Betsy Lerner's post on David Foster Wallace's papers, which includes the handwritten notes in his books. She seems moved, but I'm bordering on apoplectic.

It wasn't until I was in college that I learned to write in books. I finally started because I was a French major, and my grasp of the language was never fully fluent, which meant that I couldn't memorize the layout of my favorite books the way I can in English: even now, I can think of a favorite passage in most any of my books and find it in short order by remembering if it was high or low, left or right on the page, and how the book felt in my hands to determine how deep into the book I need to go to find it again. (This is also why I'm not going to an eReader any time soon.)

My brain doesn't work nearly as well in foreign languages, so I resorted to making some small notes in my favorite novels to help me along. Always in pencil, always slowly and carefully so that my notes and underlining were aesthetically pleasing alongside the typeface.

From his notes, I can tell that DFW loved the analysis of writing, but I also can't shake the feeling that he must not have respected these books very much. If he did, I don't understand how he could treat them that way. I don't even break the spine if I can avoid it; I read most thick books with my fingers placed strategically to protect the binding.

Someone blogged about dog-earing yesterday, and I responded in the comments, but now I can't remember who it was... sorry! But I'm going to ask similar questions: DO YOU DOG-EAR? DO YOU TAKE NOTES IN THE MARGINS? Why, or why not?


  1. Most of the books I buy for myself are second hand paperbacks (poor college student), so I do dogear the pages. It has never bothered me--it doesn't hurt the text, which is what really matters. If it's a nice, new book, though, I tend not to, but not through any conscious decision.
    I just think battered old second hand books look well-loved--the more beat up, the more often they were read, you know?

  2. I'm with you on this Carrie. I try to keep my books in pristine condition. I rarely buy used books. I hardly ever mark in my books because 1) I'm usually too busy reading to make notes and 2) just in case I have to sell them or want to sell them. Sometimes I will write notes on papers and put them inside the book. I guess I'm just not so much of a scholar that I'm taking notes while I read.

  3. I absolutely never dog-ear books.

    And I only run my high-lighter through non-fiction research books, never fiction.

    If there is something that moves me in fiction to remember, I remember. I will not deface a work of fiction.

  4. I stopped dog-earing a long time ago. I’m pretty good at finding my page. I do have a bad habit of leaving paperbacks lying open, but I’ve been trying to cut down on that.

    I would never ever write in a book. Not even assigned reading for class in highschool where I hated the book. Great way to ruin the book for someone else, and great way to throw yourself out of the story if you accidentally read your notes.

    Every little ink smudge drives me nuts, too. If I didn’t think they’d throw me in the balloon rooms, I’d read with gloves on. After having some favorite books fall apart on me, I’ve gotten much better at handling my books with care.

    Now, some of that is just how I am, but there’s a reason I don’t go to the library much.

  5. Yeah dog-earring is a big no-no for me. I'll mark my page with a random scrap of paper or something similarly esoteric (did you know toilet paper actually makes a serviceable bookmark?), but I will not even crinkle the page if I can help it.

    Also, like David above, I only use highlighters in non-fiction research materials. And that's only to note the items that are of the most importance. Never would I consider doing the same thing in a piece of fiction (except maybe on a xeroxed copy).

  6. Ièll mark a non-fiction (7-habits... for example) so when Ièm breezing through later, I can see what struck me at different times in my life.

  7. I'm with you guys in being willing to annotate non-fiction books: the more textbook-y it is, the more comfortable I am with writing on it.

  8. I dog-ear and underline everything. I only use pencil, though and I generally buy previously read books. I cannot remember where I am spacially in a book but I can, on a dog-earred page zero in to the exact word or turn of phase that enchanted me.

    I like books the same way I like chairs - looking broken-in and well-loved.

  9. BPD, you wouldn't think it based on my post, but I also adore broken-in and well-loved books, and I buy used all the time. (I will especially go out of my way to buy used to get original cover art, or to get the cover art that matches the first edition that I owned.)

    There must be a distinction in my head between unavoidable wear & tear due to re-reading and love of the text vs. just beating the heck out of it on purpose...

    I still can't bring myself to condone dog-earing (when the book gets too old, the corners just FALL OFF!!!) but I appreciate your choice of pencil underlining.

  10. I'm with you, Carrie. I wasn't until your comment above, because I love used books and have no problem breaking spines and so forth. Beaten up books have history.

    That said, I don't write in fiction and I don't dog-ear. I have a pretty good memory for where I was, so it isn't necessary, and who wants to take time to write when you're engrossed in a great story? Pshaw.

    Interestingly, while I have not yet succumbed to the eReaders because I can't get used to the idea and I like the way books feel, they might solve your annotation problem. You can annotate on those things and it *doesn't* mark up the page.

  11. I feel like I'm defacing the Bible, regardless of the book. I have FORCED myself to underline my favorite passages, but guilt creeps over my skin until my hand is shaking.

    I have a problem.

  12. It depends on how expensive the book is, and my emotional attachment to it.

    With a paperback I know I can get another copy of, I have no problem with damaging it. I view the words as valuable, not the paper they're printed on.

    However, hardcovers I intend to keep for life, or my cherished childhood books, I would never deface.

    My random word verification is "rejecti". No lie.

  13. I'm one of those people that believe it's what's in the book that matters, not the book itself. Therefore, I don't mind dog-earing a page. My favorite books are well worn and it, in my opinion, is the testament to a good book. I'd rather indulge my desire to read, then worry myself about how I'm holding the book or where I set it. Now, IF I were collecting the book for possible re-sale, be it a first edition, or signed copy, then yes, I'd treat it much less flippantly. Hell, I may even just buy another copy to abuse and keep the original one somewhere safe.

  14. I picked up underlining as a habit in college, and I still do it when I'm close-reading a book - but only in pencil. (Except law books. I write all over them in as many colors as possible, because I am perverse.) I was an incurable dog-earer in college, mostly marking pages/passages for papers. (The post-it flags were newish then I think.) I also used to use my #2 pencil as a bookmark, so my college books are pretty beat up. I'm more careful now. I went and looked at DFW's annotations and they make me dizzy! Too much red pen! I couldn't even read to find out whether they were interesting. And I would *never* write in the dictionary. Egads.

  15. Fantastic post, Carrie! Like others above, I have a tendency to annotate my books and I see it as a kind of affection. (Aww, God bless me). I don't dog-ear though, mainly because affects the tactile nature of the pages. But yes, if it's a nonfiction book (like Web Pages For Dummies) I'll dogear lots, no sweat.

  16. I cannot bring myself to dog-ear or mark a book. It hurts my heart to see it.

  17. Oh, that just hurts me.

    I reluctantly highlighted textbooks in my school days, but I'm one of those people that holds a book so as to open it only enough to read it. I don't want to crack the spine. Much less write in a book. Oh my.

  18. I was a child and didn't know any better when I last dog-eared a book page . . .

    I will rarely write or mark a book in pencil so I don't revere the books I own quite so much as some of you do . . . except my Folio Society editions!